There’s general agreement on the left and right about the demographic changes in America and how that might change the country over time. One particular point of inflection is the coming moment when American becomes a majority-minority country, i.e. when Latino, Black and Asian minorities collectively make up a larger percentage of the population than the white majority. Will this bring about the end of white supremacy as the woke left desires?
Over the weekend Andrew Sullivan wrote an interesting piece about this suggesting that maybe this change won’t be as dramatic as some people now believe.
What if this entire scenario is just empirically wrong? What if the entire idea of a majority-minority country is based on an illusion? That’s the arresting proposition of some scholars who examine demographic shifts and don’t quite buy the binary nature of the conventional wisdom. One is Richard Alba, Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His new book, “The Great Demographic Illusion,” examines and, I have to say, largely detonates, the majority-minority myth. He does this simply by pointing out how the Census Bureau actually defines “non-white”…
Key here is the role of the Latino population, and how it is defined. Most demographic estimates of the “white” population are based on the Census definition: “non-Hispanic white.” But what of “Hispanic whites” — those whose lineage may come from South or Latin America in ethnicity but who also identify racially and socially as white? If you include them in this category, America remains two-thirds “white” all the way through 2060 and beyond. And this is not some wild diversion from previous definitions. Until 1930, Alba notes, Mexican immigrants were counted as “white” in the Census. If you kept that standard today, the whole notion of “majority-minority” would simply evaporate.
It’s not just the definitions of people’s racial categories that have changed. There is a lot of intermarriage between all of these groups, which is only going to increase over time:
Multiracial identity is growing fast: “Of all the infants with a Hispanic parent in 2017, one of every four (28 percent) had a non-Hispanic parent, and one in every five (20 percent) had a non-Hispanic white, or Anglo, parent.” And when these infants eventually have kids, what racial category on earth would we decide to categorize them? The way in which Hispanic kids today interact with “white” peers and family members renders clear racial identities moot even today — and we should be happy, not alarmed, to see that these arbitrary lines of demarcation are in retreat.
There is no reason, in other words, to believe that Latinos won’t be seen in 2060 the way Italian-Americans were seen in 1960, except that they will be assimilating into an off-white, brownish mainstream rather than a monolithically and stereotypically white one. More to the point, “the idea that US babies are now mostly minority is an illusion fostered by arbitrary classification systems — arbitrary at least with respect to the daily lives of these young children.” If these kids don’t define themselves in racially binary terms, why should we impose that anachronistic rubric upon them? And if they identify as white, why should we not take their word for it?
We often forget that Italian immigrants, Irish immigrants and other groups were once considered distinct from “whites” and heavily discriminated against, but over time that changed. So what Sullivan is suggesting about how Latinos will be viewed in 2060 is worth considering. Another 40 years of blending these groups together through marriage and there will be literally millions of people of mixed heritage.
I had a friend in college who used to say, when asked about his background, that he was a “mutt.” He only referred to himself that way and all he meant by it was that his background contained multiple ethnic contributions, making it hard to identify with just one of them. That could become a much more common view in a few decades.
If so, that doesn’t bother me in the least. I don’t believe race determines anyone’s political or even ultimately their cultural outlook. It gives them a starting point from which to grow and experience other cultures, some of which they may find they like just as much as their own. But this sort of thinking could be a problem for the left which is heavily invested in identity politics and pitting groups of people against one another based on these categories.
As Sullivan puts it, “We may be forcing people to adopt racial identities when they need not. And by generating the illusion of an end to “white” America, we may be fostering a new and dangerous attachment to white identity just as we have a chance to complicate and escape it.”
Let’s continue to meet and treat each other as individuals, not as examples of a particular race or heritage. That’s what the people inter-marrying are doing. Better to follow their lived example than the demands of woke ideologues.